Despots in exile: How even the most unpopular world leaders can find safe haven abroad

Ousted heads of state are most likely to flee to a friendly neighbour – but when no such option exists, giving even the most unpalatable leaders a viable escape route can turn out to be the lesser of two evils. Namita Singh reports

Sri Lanka’s president Gotabaya Rajapaksa stepped down last month, marking a victory for protesters who for months have campaigned for the removal of both Mr Rajapaksa and the prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe

“Gota go home” was the message chanted loud and clear by protesters on the streets of Sri Lanka, directed towards their embattled president Gotabaya Rajapaksa as their country spiralled into economic ruin. Yet the result of loosening the Rajapaksa family’s iron grip on the country was that Gota ended up fleeing 3,400km away from home – to Singapore.

With Rajapaksa’s own appointee now installed as president of Sri Lanka, there are questions over how much will really change in terms of the country’s governance, and indeed how long his exile will last. But Singapore has insisted he is there on a brief “private visit” and that he will enjoy no “privileges, immunity or hospitality”, meaning it is unlikely to be his final destination.

Protesters still want Rajapaksa to be held accountable for his mismanagement of the country’s finances and, given he no longer enjoys the immunity from prosecution he did while serving as president, an immediate return to Sri Lanka seems doubtful.

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